You know what? I hate html.I wish I was doing almost anything else.Like getting laid. I could be having sex right now, but noooo.I watched Utena lose her virginity again this weekend.That scene is so hot.The fine line between obsession and madness is... what was I saying?GIRL ON GIRL ACTION!!!I want that outfit. I like red and black. What a surprise.This layout took forever to get just right. But that was because I took so many breaks.I never ate glue in kindergarten. Hard to tell, huh?Gio keeps talking about food. What a bitch.LEGS.See, I'm being productive. Now if only I could do this at work, where productive is just a dream...GODDAMMIT STOP TALKING ABOUT FOODYou know, those are the only important things in life. Food, sex, and sleep.Everything else is just window dressing.I have to clean my house still. That sucks.I hate cleaning. I should buy maids.I want to go to a museum, but I don't want to get out of my jammies.I suck at being energetic.Funny, you don't look Druish.


If I Could - Chapter Three


She had to miss the next day of school, recovering. Sakura had called, wondering why Kohana had forgotten to call the night before, and Kohana had made some silly excuse about being tired and worn out that instantly spawned all kinds of suppositions about Kiryuu's part in that. But she was able to go to school the day after, and was feeling almost as good as she ever did.

Which, admittedly, wasn't all that great, but it was near normal. She'd managed to glue the counselor to her chair again before lunch. The woman would never learn to look before she sat down.

When lunch rolled around, she was her normal, almost happy self again, sitting under a tree with Sakura and Ichida and another girl, Ayame, being admired from afar by the rest of the student populace. Perhaps it was time to take a walk through and speak to them, see if there were any students who were interesting enough for a quick jaunt to the music room.

"So, tell us what happened!" Sakura demanded. "What did you do, where did you go? Is Kiryuu-sempai as big a playboy as they say he is?"

"No one could be that big a playboy, no matter how many girls he always has hanging around him," Ichida put in. "Besides, why are you interested, Sakura? Think he might want to go through the rest of the group now?" Ichida was always teasing Sakura about wanting to leave him. Kohana supposed it was because he knew she never would. If she did, though, Kohana would have snapped him up in a second—those warm hazel eyes and that violet hair were stunning. He truly deserved to be in her little clique of beautiful people.

"I can't believe it. You really went out with—him? He's so dreamy! But I've heard things about him... Probably just stories, I guess." Ayame was one of the world's innocents—that was easy enough to see by the way her green eyes widened whenever something minimally ‘bad’ was mentioned, as if she hadn’t any idea how people could do such things. She never liked to believe what she heard about others, preferring to believe that all people were good at heart. She too belonged to the clique of beautiful people, with long black hair and a body that Kohana considered delectable, but she was often left out by the other three for having no appetite for mischief.

"You've all heard things about me, too. How many of those are true?" Kohana was really getting tired of this, and it was only ten minutes after the bell had rung for lunch.

Sakura, who knew the most, shifted uncomfortably and brushed a blonde curl out of her eyes. "Some of them, I guess." Then her blue eyes widened a touch as she saw someone standing behind Kohana.

"Some of what?"

Three guesses as to who, and the first two don't count.

"Kiryuu-sempai." It was too much effort to turn around and look at him right now. He'd enter her line of vision eventually.

"I'd like an explanation, Kohana." He didn't sound angry, or confused. He was just stating a fact. It sounded like he was leaning on the tree directly behind her.

"I had a migraine. I fainted. There's your explanation." She couldn't help a smile when she said this. It was such fun being politely rude to him.

Over Sakura's gasp of sympathy, he said calmly, "I'd like a better explanation, Kohana."

"Do I owe you something more, Kiryuu-sempai?" Her smile widened. Soon he would have to come around in front of her, just to see whether she really was laughing at him.

His voice sounded tight when he answered, but Kohana couldn't tell if it was from anger or restrained laughter. "When I have to carry a girl up to her room after she nearly breaks both her knees by falling on hard pavement, I think better explanations are due."

"Kohana! Is that true?" Sakura's face was the picture of distress. She glanced warily from Kiryuu to Kohana and back.

Kiryuu began, "It's the truth—"

"I didn’t invite you into my room, Kiryuu." The words dropped into the warm air like chips off an iceberg. He'd gone into her room? Without her permission?

"No one was home at the time except one of the maids, and she wasn't strong enough to carry you." He seemed much calmer now that she was angry. "She directed me there. Would you rather I'd left you on the hall floor?"

"Yes! You had no right to invade my privacy that way! I only met you for the first time that day!" Her room was her space! That was the only place she could truly be herself, and he'd ignored that boundary! "And you knew I didn't like people I don't know going in there!"

"I wouldn't say that you don't know me. Explain yourself. Why the doctors? Why do you stay home from school so often?" It was strange, the way that purring voice could get on her nerves while still tickling her skin with remembrance.

"It's not your concern, Kiryuu. You should have had the decency to bring it up privately, if at all." Now Sakura and Ichida and Ayame would never buy that line about her parents being overprotective again. She'd have to construct a whole new wall of lies to protect herself.

"It is my concern. You're to be my assistant until I graduate. If there is something that will prevent you from carrying out your duties in that capacity, I must know." What utter bullshit! He knew very well that it wouldn't interfere any more than it interfered with her school life.

"Assistant? Assistant to the Seitokaicho, you mean?" Ichida's angelic face was confused, and his brows drew together in a frown. "That would mean—"

"Yes, I am considering Kohana as my successor. However, if she cannot perform the duties expected, I must choose another." There was a sound of cloth scraping over bark, as if he had just shifted.

"Sakura. Ichida. Ayame. Will you leave us alone, please? I apologize for cutting our lunch short." Looking at them each in turn, Kohana saw that their faces were worried, confused. Hopefully by the time she met up with them again she'd have another lie to tell them, a more convincing one this time.

"Lunch, nothing!" Sakura got up abruptly, her confusion changing to anger. "You hardly ate anything at all, Kohana. You don’t eat, you sleep too much, you’re always away—if you can't tell us what's wrong with you, at least don't lie to us and say you're fine!"

Ichida's face became worried and apologetic, and as Ayame hurried after Sakura, he said, "I'll talk to her. She's just hurt."

"I know. I'm sorry for hurting her." And she was, a little, but not for lying. Kohana watched Ichida hurry after the two girls. The stereo magazines he always carried around were left behind, pages flipping in the light breeze. Without turning around, she asked, "Are you happy now? I've known you a whole two days and you've managed to ruin one of my friendships as well as invade my privacy and pry into things that aren't any of your business."

"I apologize. I thought they, at least, would have known." He did sound truly regretful, but that just wasn't good enough. The grass rustled softly, directly behind her, and she could almost feel him touching her. He wasn't, of course. Not yet.

"There's nothing to know. I get migraines. I faint. That's it. You didn’t seem concerned about the school I miss when you asked me to join the Seitokai." Another rustle of grass and cloth. Suddenly her anger was melting away. After all, what was done was done. There was no help for it now. And he was very good, amazing, in bed. She had to give him some leeway just on the basis of that.

He said he liked the idea of meeting at school someday…

His hand gently landed on her shoulder, pulling her backward. She didn't bother to put up even a token resistance, the way she would have with anyone else. Her back encountered his chest, and she could see his face out of the corner of her eye. He wasn't looking at her either as he said, "I admit, it wasn't that. What worried me was seeing you faint—"

She laughed, cutting him off. "Don't bother, Kiryuu-sempai. I’m not one of the little girls that you have to reassure and coddle—I know you weren’t worried." It was silly to think that she might fall for that. She knew him, knew what he was all about. Sex and power were his drugs of choice—and hers.

After consideration, he said, "True. But it was rather disconcerting. Tell me, did you faint because of the sex? If so, we should be more careful in the future."

Leaning on him was quite comfortable. She reached up to toy with a lock of his hair as she said, "If anything, that helped me get home in one piece. I'd had the migraine ever since you left for our drinks. I'm surprised I lasted as long as I did; usually I can' t even stand after the first half-hour."

"Is it really so bad?" he asked softly, though without sympathy. There was only curiosity in his tone.

"Most of the time, no. I don't get them every day, or even every other day. But when I do get them, they're horrible." That was enough truth for the day. She knew he was still trying to get her to tell him what it was that caused them, though he was being subtle about it. It wouldn't do to let him know that she'd caught on. Lightly she stroked his cheek, turning to look directly at him for the first time as she did so. His eyes caught hers, an amused and heated glance. "I'm still angry at you for going into my room."

He smiled. "You don't sound angry."

"I am."

"You're not. After all, you were going to take me in there eventually." That same seductive smile was in full force as his hand left her shoulder to caress her arm.

"People are going to think you've given up your degenerate ways if you don't stop hanging around me. Don’t you know that I’m a perfect angel, and above playboys like you?" Kohana smiled imperiously. It was true. She could almost see the excited whispers passing from group to group near them, and the 'covert' looks were ridiculously apparent.

"Your reputation is suffering too. With a playboy like me, people might start to suspect that you’re not as angelic as you act." He turned her chin so that she was facing him again. "Your eyes almost look golden. They're beautiful."

"Thank you." Glancing back to the scattered groups of people on the grass, her smile dissolved. "If we left together, they would assume we were dating. Look at them whisper."

Shaking his head, he said, "I know. The gossip is the true ruler of this school."

"I’m shocked. I thought I was." Injecting just a shade of humor into her voice, Kohana stole a glance at him. Curiosity drove her; how good was he at hearing the subtle variations in a person’s voice?

He did hear it, and his quiet appreciation of the joke won a little more of her respect. Perhaps he was worthy of more than just her bed—perhaps he was worthy of conversation as well. She’d never lacked for lovers, but good conversation was something to be treasured when found. "Nothing in this place rules the actions of the students as much as the rumor mill. We’ll start quite a few rumors just by the fact that I’m not surrounded by my cloud of admirers, and I’m not trying to steal a kiss from you."

"And why not, Kiryuu-sempai?" Kohana asked, arching her eyebrow at him. "Have you suddenly decided that you don’t like it?" She knew why she wasn’t kissing him; it would go against the pure image she’d cultivated. Glamour, purity, and nobility brought people flocking to her side—and only one of them was real.

"I feel it would be wise to be somewhat discreet if we’re to continue our association. I wouldn’t want people thinking that I chose you for the Seitokai because of your other talents." A small smile curved his lips. "In any case, you should call me Touga. I think we’re more than just acquaintances."

The bell rang to call the students back in, and Kohana nodded, gathering up Ichida's magazines and the bento box Ayame had left. "Maybe." It wasn’t the way she thought of him, and it helped to keep him at the proper distance. He would know that, she supposed, and decided not to call him Touga. He wasn’t anywhere near important enough to have a first name yet.

"Meet me at the rose garden after school," he said after he'd risen, offering her a hand up. "There are still a few things we need to discuss about the Council, and the rest of them want to inspect you. It's just a formality. You're already in, if you want to be."

"I think so. But what was this about being your successor?"

"I'll explain later." Smiling, he turned and began to walk away, throwing one last comment over his shoulder, "I like your room."

Arrogant. But then, she was too.

In class, Sakura was quiet, unlike her normal self. She seemed withdrawn, and when Kohana caught her during their break, she didn't seem inclined to speak. It was a good thing Kohana had all of her lies in order.

"Sakura, I hope Ichida told you how sorry I am. It was really unforgivable of me to lie to you that way."

Sakura nodded, but didn't say anything, putting books into her locker.

She would make it harder than it needed to be. Kohana took a deep breath, as if steeling herself for something painful or embarrassing, and carefully restrained the impatience she felt. "I know you don't feel like you can trust me to tell the truth again, and I understand. But I don't want you to be hurt over what was my stupid mistake, and I'd like the chance to explain. I don't have any illusions that it's going to make everything all right again, but even if we aren't friends after this, you deserve that much from me."

The locker slammed shut. "And why didn't I deserve a little honesty from you when we were friends?" Her voice was taut with unshed tears.

Good. It would make things easier if she was emotionally off-balance. Kohana made her voice sympathetic, humble. "You sound really upset with me. You have every right to be. Do you want to go someplace private, where we can talk? Even if you just stand there and yell at me, I don't care. You deserve to be angry."

"Yeah, I guess. We'll be late for class." Now Sakura’s anger was almost gone. It was amazing what a few well-placed, properly inflected words would do. Sakura would just be feeling miserable about the sharp words she’d said.

"Don't worry, I'll tell Matsushida that I needed your help with something. He'll believe me." Kohana let a small, wry smile appear on her face. "After all, I shouldn't get you in trouble on top of lying to you."

Sakura smiled back, a little. It wasn’t enough yet. "Are we going to the music room?"

"No. We might as well go to the Council's rose garden. I'll be a member soon enough anyway." Kiryuu Nanami should be in class right now, and she was sure that something so minor would be overlooked if she were caught by any of the other members of the Council. Kiryuu, of course, would only try to seduce them both.

The hallways were rapidly emptying as they made their way to the garden, the students hurrying to their classes. Scattered waves and greetings were always answered by a nod, but only that, as Kohana wanted Sakura to get the idea that whatever she was going to say was important enough that she would forget her normal pleasantries. People were remarkably willing to believe whatever they wanted.

The rose garden was empty, thank goodness, and Kohana held the door for Sakura as she entered. The girl's pretty face shone with delight as she saw the banks of roses overflowing the graceful planters. "Wow, Kohana, I didn't think this place would be so beautiful!"

"I thought it might make you a little happier." Kohana gave her a timid smile, and sat down on the bench. The air was redolent with the sensual scent of the roses, something she hadn't been able to appreciate when Nanami had been there. She let Sakura wander around the room a little longer, absorbed as she was in the beauty of the flowers, but she soon grew tired of waiting and spoke. "If you want to hear what I have to say…" she began, feigning nervousness.

"I suppose." Sakura had calmed down quite a bit, and she was now more favorably disposed towards Kohana. Her eyes had lost the wounded look that had appeared when she realized that Kohana had lied to her. That was good.

"I didn't want to tell you this because I didn't want you to worry about me. I don't like to be pitied, and I didn't want even my closest friends to pity me because I'm ill." After a quick glance to see how well that had gone over, she continued on. "And I am sick. No one's been able to figure out why, but I get horrible headaches. When they get too bad, I faint. The doctors don't know what to do about it, but they can't prescribe painkillers because I'd build up a tolerance to the weaker ones. Eventually I'd be addicted to the stronger ones. There's nothing anyone can do about it, so I didn't want people treating me like I'm different because of it."

"Oh, that's horrible!" Sakura said, and then clapped her hand over her mouth. She smiled wryly as the hand came down. "And I'll just forget about it. I can see why you didn't want me to know."

"It's not just you, Sakura—"

"But it was mostly me, wasn't it? I understand. I wouldn't want people constantly worrying about me either." She paused for a moment, confused. "But your parents—"

"That's another thing I lied about. My parents hardly know I'm alive. I make all of my doctors' appointments, mostly when I can feel a really bad spell coming on, but sometimes after. My parents just pay for it all." Sakura opened her mouth, and Kohana hurried to add, "And that's another thing I don't like to talk about. My parents are their own people, with their own lives, and they do what they must to keep me fed and clothed and educated. I'm grateful to them for that, but they're my parents in name only. Other people might have better home lives, but I like mine the way it is, and I don't want to be pitied for something I'm comfortable with."

Sakura nodded, giving Kohana a brisk little salute. "Yes, sir! I'll try not to make you uncomfortable now that I know all of this. No one, not even Ichida, will hear about it from me."

Kohana smiled shyly. "Then I'm forgiven?" As if Ichida wouldn't find out. In fact, Kohana was counting on it. If Sakura told him that she wasn't supposed to tell him, he'd keep it a better secret than he would if she herself had asked him. As for Ayame, Kohana supposed that eventually one or the other would get around to telling her—with the same stipulation that she wasn't supposed to know. Ayame would then keep her mouth shut about it, having two people to discuss it with, and no one else would find out. That was just how things worked.

Catching her up in a hug, Sakura said, "Of course you are! Now you have to tell me about Kiryuu-sempai. If we're going to be late, we might as well be as late as possible."

This was one topic that she didn't need to hide about. "He's... amazing," she breathed, allowing the memory of that night to return for a little while.

Sakura raised her eyebrow, seating herself by Kohana. "You just met him the day before yesterday!"

"We're both fast workers. Come on, Sakura, if you didn't have Ichida, tell me you'd actually refuse Kiryuu." She gave Sakura a poke in the side. "You can't, can you?"

"No... but I don't think—no, not the day I met him. I wouldn't. I don't know how you can." There was no censure in Sakura's eyes. She was used to Kohana's habits and appetites.

Kohana sighed. "I know. I guess… we were just the same type. You know me—I like guys. A lot. And I guess he likes girls a lot, and we sort of convinced each other too much when neither of us needed much convincing at all."

It’s like we both just tripped and landed in bed. It probably would have taken a lot longer if we hadn’t both been so willing.

"You're not going out with him, are you?"

Laughing, she answered, "No. He has no more intention of settling down with one person than I do. But I am meeting him after school today on Council business. After that..." She shrugged, grinning. "Who knows? I certainly won't turn it down if it's offered."

"You're so bad!" Sakura laughed, smacking Kohana's arm. It was just playful, but it did hurt. Kohana had never told her that she was overly sensitive, and didn't bother to make it known now; it might reveal that there was more to her condition than she'd just said. "So tell me," Sakura continued on, oblivious, "How was he?"

Smiling mistily, Kohana said, "Amazing." She settled in for a little girl talk.

After school, Kohana didn't bother to go in the rose garden. Kiryuu Nanami was in there. Something about that girl, the way she acted, spoke, smiled so blankly... Correction: everything about that girl was disconcerting.

So Kohana was leaning on a nearby column, holding court with a few of the more amusing members of her grade. People passing by waved, she waved back; someone had the guts to ask her directly what was going on between she and Kiryuu, and she gave some meaningless answer that would be twisted and interpreted into an unrecognizable mess by morning. Normality was as enjoyable as ever, even in the shadow of that birdcage.

Eventually Kiryuu did approach, surrounded by a cloud of his own followers. And oh, how they glared at her when he excused himself. Extremely conscious of all of the eyes on them and all the envy hanging like a thick mist, she made her own excuses and met him halfway. "Kiryuu-sempai." Causing such a stir was definitely enjoyable, but she'd tire of it soon enough.

"Kohana." He offered her his arm, and she laid her hand lightly on it as if they were at a formal dance. "I asked you to call me Touga."

"I apologize, Touga," she said coolly. "Shall we?"

"Of course, unless you'd like to do this another day. Juri can be quite intimidating." He smiled at her, quite unnecessarily reassuring. It was probably for show. He knew she wasn't nervous.

She had to react to it somehow. She gave him a grin that was a bit nervous at first, but then broadened into her most winning smile. "You make it sound like I'm in trouble."

"You might be." He grinned devilishly at her, and began to lead her further into the school.

Ohtori was expansive. Stately architecture permeated the place, even into the classrooms, and everywhere throughout, the rose crest dominated. Stained glass windows featured it, little roses were hidden in moldings, the white stone tiles were painted with them; it was everywhere. Kiryuu took her into a part of the school she'd only been in once before deciding it was a waste of time to be there. As far as she remembered, there was nothing too interesting here.

They entered an antique-looking elevator, complete with caged doors and red painted walls. Kiryuu appeared to be deep in thought, standing in the center of the elevator and gazing out of the window, so she didn't disturb him, preferring instead to lean against one of the walls and watch birds in flight through the window.

The opening of the doors snapped him out of it. He turned and walked out, beckoning to her to follow him. Red seemed to be the predominant color for drapes and wall hangings here; on either side of a large door were velvet drapes. An impressive rose cutout window topped the door. It was dark inside the enormous room, but on the balcony beyond Kohana could see figures moving.

As she moved onto the balcony, as large as the room itself, she could see that it was flanked by two spires. There was a small table set up at the far end. Arisugawa Juri, Saionji Kyouichi, and Kaoru Miki sat around it. Kiryuu Nanami was nowhere to be seen.

So she wasn't on the Council at all, then? No one else was allowed in the rose garden. Kohana decided that Kiryuu must have given her the job of tending the roses because she was good at it—though Kohana had no idea whether she actually was or not. Gardening was low on her list of interests.

As she drew near, she noticed a folder on the table. No doubt it was her student record or some such nonsense. Kiryuu stopped a few feet away from the table, and she did the same. After all, she was taking her cues from him.

"Is this your choice, Seitokaicho? She looks better suited to your games than to the games of the rose seal," Saionji said, a sneer in his voice. He was resting his forehead lightly on his hand, looking Kohana over through slitted purple eyes.

"I've satisfied myself as to her abilities. She is a suitable replacement." Kiryuu returned calmly. There was an air of hidden menace about the group, as if together they created some strange alchemical reaction that was not apparent when they were apart. "Kohana is well known throughout the lower grades, and in the higher grades. She is intelligent, capable, and persuasive. The teachers speak highly of her, as do the students."

Kaoru looked up from the book he was scribbling in. "I thought she wasn't willing."

Kiryuu opened his mouth to speak, but Kohana cut him off. "I am now."

Shooting her an amused glance, Kiryuu gestured to her and stayed silent.

Drumming her fingers on the table, Arisugawa looked her over. Kohana had heard rumors about her, but she wasn't especially intimidated. After all, Arisugawa was only human, and all humans had their weaknesses. Kohana scrutinized her as sharply as she was being scrutinized, searching for anything about her that suggested a flaw of some sort, something that could be used against her. She didn't usually indulge herself in openly studying people, but she was safe as long as Kiryuu was sponsoring her.

Arisugawa finally laughed abruptly, a humorless sound. "She reminds me of you, Seitokaicho." Standing gracefully, she walked toward Kohana and then around her, circling her once before stopping in front of her. Kohana did not watch Arisugawa inspect her; she simply met Arisugawa's gaze calmly when the older girl stopped in front of her again. The silence began to grow thick.

"Strong willed, and cool headed," Arisugawa murmured, after an endless moment of wary study. Neither had dropped her eyes. "If I hadn't known better, I would have said you'd brought one of your playthings, Seitokaicho."

"If you feel Kiryuu-sempai has made the wrong choice, why not say so?" Kohana said calmly, still watching Arisugawa, mentally testing her reaction for weakness.

Amusement crept into her emerald eyes. She saw the analysis Kohana was conducting. "So calculating. I don't believe you’re intimidated at all, though I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors." She smiled, but it held no real good humor. There was something strangely sad about it. She turned to Kiryuu. "If I don't applaud your choice, you'll understand. However, I think you've made the right one."

He nodded, silent. Arisugawa walked back over to the table, taking her seat and looking away as if the rest of it no longer concerned her. For a moment Kohana wondered what it would be like to have an ice queen like that in bed. Would she stay frigid, or would she melt? She had the feeling that it was the latter.

Kaoru glanced up from his book again. What did she know about him? Ah yes, he was the genius. He'd even composed that piece of music, 'The Sunlit Garden'. She rather liked that one.

Watching her now, he seemed very young, but there was a sort of strength to him that Kohana couldn’t put her finger on. She shifted, allowing her already short skirt ride a little higher. Kaoru noticed with shock, and Kohana mentally filed away his reaction. It seemed that he was an innocent. A faint blush came to his cheeks and his gaze darted uneasily over to Kiryuu. "Her absences are of concern to us," he said. "As the Seitokaicho's assistant it won't be necessary for her to be present at every meeting. But if she is as capable as you think she is, they will become a problem when she is Seitokaicho."

"They will not interfere. I am sure she will make as much effort to be present for them as I do. If she cannot attend for some reason or other, I have confidence that she will make her opinions clear beforehand. You’ll have no reason to doubt her." Kiryuu seemed very amused. No doubt it was because of her little attempt to throw Kaoru off balance.

She decided it was time for a little more play. Keeping her tone completely innocent, she said, "'The Sunlit Garden' is a favorite of mine, Kaoru. Perhaps you'll play it for me sometime. I would so love to have you for a private concert." Kohana's fingers stroked the side of her thigh in a way that would appear completely absent, picking at the edge of her skirt.

The poor boy blushed again. It was too easy. No challenge at all. Kiryuu's soft chuckle attracted her attention, but she didn't bother looking at him. Instead, she gave Kaoru a small smile of reassurance. After all, she didn't want to frighten the poor boy into keeping her out of the Council.

As he saw that smile, she could almost see him adding up facts. The wheels in his head clicked away for a few moments, and then he nodded. "I agree, Seitokaicho. She'll do well."

He really was too young for her. In a year or two, perhaps. Maybe only one year.

Saionji was the next to go. He stood and walked over to her, invading her personal space allowance for people like him by at least three feet. When she didn't break eye contact with him, he sneered. Voice dripping with sarcasm, he said, "The pranks are so amusing. It's a shame she has to give them up."

Give them up? Right, and the moon was about to turn blue.

"She'll do what is necessary to be the Seitokaicho. If that means giving up the pranks, she'll do so. For now, it is not an issue." This ritualized attack and defense of her was quite interesting, comforting at the same time as it was unnerving. It would be amusing to head one of these little rituals; Kohana found traditions like this a good way to watch people, as any break or misstep or even someone’s reaction to it could be informative.

"No, but her behavior in general is. The pranks, the skipped school, the little affairs of the heart—well, perhaps not of the heart." Saionji smiled arrogantly. "Is she too concerned with the other parts of her life? Will she forget her duties for them?"

Annoyance reared its unwelcome head at Saionji’s tone. She decided she was going to field this one, just to get the satisfaction of defending herself from this green-haired ignoramus. "If my duties actually are as important as you seem to think they are, I'll do them. Without fail."

There was a long silence after that, and all eyes were on her, even Arisugawa's. She had the feeling that if she hadn't been there, many conversations would have gone on.

"You have no idea what you're getting into," Saionji finally said, no trace of sarcasm in his tone.

"I'll find out eventually." Kohana spoke just as seriously. What could possibly be so dire about the Student Council's duties? There was no point in showing her indifference, though, so she continued to play along.

Saionji nodded, walking back to his seat. "I suppose it doesn't matter, but I refuse to vote. She's suitable enough, but…"

Calmly, Kiryuu prompted, "But?"

After Saionji had seated himself again, he looked directly at her. "But I won't be party to it." He didn't look like he was doing this out of personal motivation. He'd said she was suitable. What was his problem? Kohana searched his face, but she didn't find anything except a hint of the sadness she'd seen in Arisugawa's smile.

"Fukukaicho. You're at Ohtori. Vote." Kiryuu's voice was sharp.

"Then I vote no." Voice just as sharp, Saionji still watched her.

"If you have no concrete reason, you'll go on record as having agreed with my choice. State your reason." What was the reason for all of this? Kiryuu seemed angry, but not at Saionji. The others were watching her again, and again Kohana had the feeling that more would have been said if she weren’t there.

Saionji stayed silent, as did everyone else. Finally, Kiryuu said, "Then you've all agreed. I'm glad you approve of my choice." He walked over to the table and Kohana stayed where she was. Picking up the folder that she'd seen, he walked back to her and handed it to her. "This is Council business only. It goes no further than this room and these people."

Opening the folder, she saw sheets of medical reports. Kiryuu was watching her intently.

She backhanded him before she even knew what she was doing.

Kaoru gasped, and she distantly heard the click of a stopwatch, but the others remained silent. Kiryuu looked back at her as calmly as if it had never happened, his narrowed eyes the only hint that he felt anything at all. "As I said, Council business only."

"That's where you're wrong, Kiryuu. It's my business only. How long have you had these?" Medical reports. Her medical reports. Every detail of her physical state—unhealthy—as well as her mental state. They were complete, starting with the time she was in the hospital for chicken pox when she was four. All the vaccinations and inoculations, all the tests the doctors had run on her to find out why she had migraines and why she fainted, even the experimental drug she'd taken that had ended up bleaching the color from her hair. They were all in there. She had a set at home, though they were battered and torn, unlike these.

"Since this afternoon. I had to know if your illness was something that would interfere with your duties."

"You couldn't try believing me when I said it wouldn't?" The words were out of her mouth before she thought. "No, of course not. Obviously it won't, since you've let me get this far. Are you happy yet, Kiryuu? You've yet again invaded my privacy and this time I won't forgive you so easily."

"You haven't forgiven me for last time," he said, composed. "You'll understand soon enough." He gently took the folder from her, turning and flipping through it as he walked away. "Increased sensitivity to all stimuli. Low body temperature. Migraine headaches. Decreased appetite. Fainting spells caused by migraines as well as slight malnutrition. Internal organs relatively sound. Muscle tone, endurance, and cerebral functions declining gradually. Mental state—denial. Superiority complex. Possible neuroses ranging from paranoia to anxiety attacks." He turned back to her. "There’s conflict about your mental health and none of those problems are especially severe, which leads me to believe that at least some of it was faked for your amusement."

"Yes." There was no point in being angry. He already knew. "That only confirms what you've decided."

He nodded, walking back to the table and slapping the papers down. "Subject is expected to experience deterioration in physical and mental abilities, caused by genetic disorder. No prescriptions due to severity of attacks and risk of addiction. Addendum—subject is infertile, cause pinpointed as experimental treatments. Life expectancy is ten years at most." Turning back to her, he asked, "Your private estimate?"

"Five. How did you get that?" He was going to pay dearly.

"That's not important." He smiled, walking back over to her. "And you're wasting your life in school?"

"If you must ask, at least ask in private. I don't care to have my thoughts on life and my impending death discussed in committee, no matter how quiet they are." Kohana frowned lightly at him. Whatever she'd thought was going on before, this was stranger. What kind of Student Council needed that kind of information?

Arisugawa rose. "The meeting is over. You're instated as Kiryuu's assistant, and you'll get your uniform tonight. Wear it instead of your normal uniform." For the first time, Kohana saw a glimpse of humanity in that carved-ice façade, a small and sympathetic gleam in Arisugawa’s eyes. Anger roared up within Kohana again—she much preferred people to ignore whatever feelings of pity they might have for her—but she damped it down, knowing that getting angry would only expose her to the whole Seitokai.

Putting an arm around her shoulders, Kiryuu guided her out of the room. Behind her, she heard Saionji say softly and bitterly, "For the revolution of the world."

She didn't bother to glance back. Kiryuu's face revealed a small measure of anger, most likely a lot less than he was feeling. At what? The words were nonsense. Silently she promised herself that she'd find out what it was that was so important about the Seitokai's duties, and that she'd make Kiryuu pay for prying. Soon.